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Business School Rankings Have Lost Prestige, Say Aspiring Students

The majority of aspiring business school students participating in a recent survey said rankings have lost prestige in recent years

Thu Apr 11 2024

Ambitious professionals planning on applying to business school feel program rankings—offered by the likes of the Financial Times and US News & World Report—have “lost some of their prestige”, according to a new survey. 

The study, conducted by test prep organizations Manhattan Prep and Kaplan, quizzed more than 300 aspiring b-school students on their opinions of rankings today. In total, 55% said they felt the prestige of rankings was in decline, while 21% felt that wasn’t the case and 24% weren’t sure. 

Despite this, an overwhelming 97% of survey respondents still said the ranking of their target schools would be critical in helping them choose where to study. Highlighting the enduring value of these annually released lists, 65% called a school’s ranking position very important and 32% said it was somewhat important. 

Manhattan Prep and Kaplan conducted a similar survey of admissions officers at 70 US business schools, which reinforced the sentiment that ranking prestige is waning. In total, 50% of admissions staff surveyed said they had lost prestige, a jump of 13% compared with the same survey from the previous year. The survey included 10 of the top 50 schools ranked by US News. 

Contributing to the survey, individual admissions officers weighed in on the perception of rankings, offering varied viewpoints. 

One unnamed respondent said: “Rankings are still valuable as one of many informational tools students consider when deciding where to apply. There are so many other resources, like social media, that I believe are more influential.”

However another anonymous admissions officer took a more negative stance: “They are a joke and are simply ways to generate revenue for ranking publications. Many schools attempt to game them.”

According to Manhattan Prep and Kaplan, a number of respondents noted that rankings are particularly important for international business school applicants who have less familiarity with the reputations of individual US schools. 

There are a wide variety of business school rankings offered by different publications each year. The Financial Times offers rankings across multiple program types, ranging from a list of the best business schools to study an MBA, to the world’s best Online MBAs, and the top Master in Management degrees. 

Earlier this week, US News published its annual list of the best business schools in the USA. Aspiring students can also find a range of MBA and specialized masters rankings published by QS Quacquarelli Symonds. 

The perceived decline in the prestige of business school rankings follows a series of scandals including one dean being found guilty of rankings fraud and a number of high profile schools also refusing to participate. New rankings have also launched, adding to the competition within the space. In November 2023 LinkedIn delivered its own MBA ranking for the first time. 

“We’ve spoken with hundreds of business school admissions officers over the years and more than a few have told us, using gallows humor, that the night before the US News rankings come out is the longest night of the year because they don’t get much sleep. Some truly believe their careers hang in the balance. That’s largely because so many business schools use their ranking as an important, if not the most important, student recruitment and fundraising tool,” said Stacey Koprince, director of content and curriculum at Manhattan Prep. 

“While we believe the rankings can be useful to applicants, the risk is giving a school’s ranking too much weight in determining where you ultimately enroll. One piece of advice we always give students is to strongly consider the location of the business school. It’s beneficial in the long-term to attend a business school in the city or region where you plan on building your career because of all the local connections you’ll make—connections that can turn into lucrative job offers upon graduation. It’s a big reason why so many schools in the financial and business hubs of New York, Boston, and San Francisco are so popular.”